On June 9, 2014, Yeo Bee Yin, then a state assemblyman in Selangor, wrote in DAP’s The Rocket that if the Kinrara-Damansara Expressway (Kidex) were to be built, it would cost RM2.4 billion or RM161 million per km, making it by far the most expensive highway in Malaysia.
According to the data provided, the most expensive highway then was the RM751 million Ampang-KL Elevated Highway at RM95 million per km.
DAP and Yeo were dead against Kidex because “it cuts across mature townships incurring the highest construction cost per km”. They said that “it warrants close scrutiny and greater transparency and must show to the people that the benefits of Kidex outweigh the cost with no better option (such as public transport) before making the final decisions…”
These are all laudatory words and it was indeed the people’s objections and power that stopped the Kidex project and saved Petaling Jaya from being disfigured.
If DAP contributed anything to this people’s victory, then kudos to them.
Fast forward to 2018. On Sept 20, 2018, Yeo, now the minister in charge of environment, was present at a town hall meeting in Penang attended by 800 people.
She was attending a presentation by the consultants on the Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (DEIA) report of the Pan Island Link 1 (PIL 1). She was also there to listen to public feedback on the DEIA report.
At the event, Penang Forum submitted a detailed feedback regarding their concerns about PIL 1 and also over 2,000 individual letters on the DEIA to Yeo.
Before she left, Yeo said we must balance development with environment, and a hard decision has to be made. Instead of reassuring the crowd that decisions will be made on the basis of facts and evidence, i.e. evidence-based policy, she referred to Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s advice that the best decision is one that pleases no one.
She also assured the crowd that she believed no one on the stage was on the take.
Penang Forum did not receive any feedback from the Department of Environment for six months. It received a brief note on March 22, 2019 saying that the project was under review.
Three weeks later, on April 14, it was announced that the PIL 1 project had received approval with 56 conditions attached. There was simply no public engagement in this process.
Now the public is in the dark about what those 56 conditions are.
In 2014, DAP and Yeo asked for transparency. Now that they are in a position of power to make and implement those decisions, they must practise what they preached. At the very least, the 56 conditions must be made public.
What do other DAP power brokers have to say about PIL 1? Today they sing praises about the need for PIL 1.
Politicians have a short memory, some deliberately. Let us refresh their memory.
On May 29, 2002, Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow, who was then an opposition MP, said, “If the findings of the Halcrow Report are true, Dr Koh (Tsu Koon) would be irresponsible in pushing the PORR through as this will not be a long-term solution to the traffic congestion on the island.”
This was underscored by Lim Kit Siang on May 28, 2002. He said, “The nightmare of the Penang traffic congestion is likely to be back to square one, not in eight years but probably less than five years, after the completion of PORR… What Penang needs is an efficient public transport system based on sustainable transport policy, as PORR is not a medium-term let alone long-term solution to the traffic congestion nightmare on the island.”
PORR, the Penang Outer Ring Road, is the precursor of PIL 1. It shares almost the same alignment except that PIL 1 is longer than PORR.
Just as the Halcrow consultants warned that PORR will not solve traffic congestion after five to eight years, the consultants for PIL 1 DEIA report gave the same warning. They said there will be congestion seven years after completion of PIL 1.
So why are these politicians who are now in positions of power reneging on their earlier positions?
Why are they not walking the talk? Why are they not making decisions based on evidence and sound advice?
This is supposed to be a new government, one that heralds hope. We need to hold them accountable.
Dr Lim Mah Hui is a former councillor of the Penang Island City Council.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.